I read an article the other day in The Writer magazine about why writers are so prone to self-doubt. It wasn't a bad article. It wasn't a good article. Mostly, it was a mediocre article, slanted to support the writer's hypothesis, slapped together with a modicum of research by someone who self-identifies as being a.) a female or someone who identifies with being a female, and b.) a writer with a life-long history of festering self-doubt. Not exactly the panache of Dana Lasch writing for the NRA on why guns don't commit crimes or Newt Gingrich espousing on why Nancy Pelosi is the first despot the House of Representatives has ever seen or even why Joe Biden believes the single greatest threat facing America today isn't crime or the economy or illegal immigration or even COVID-19 but White Supremecy. Come on, man!
So, although that article writer may not have nailed it, still, she's a writer all the same.
While the article was the typically flat, tepid fare for which The Writer (which hasn't published many articles of value to writers since I stopped contributing to them four decades ago—indulge me a little here, will you?) that we've come to expect, it started the wheels turning.
Why are writers so prone to self-doubt? Well, having been there and done that, I don't have to think that one through for very long. I penned my first "novel" more than half a century ago. I sweated bullets to finish that baby, doubting all along that it would ever happen. And, when I was done, I began sending it around for publication, doubting all along that it would ever happen.
Now, I don't mean I sent pitches for it to every Tom, Dick, and Doubleday I could find, I mean I dropped the whole damned thing in a Manilla envelope, addressed it, and mailed it toot suite, which I think is French for "SASE Enclosed."
Anyway, the results were predictable. One publisher after another turned it down. So, after a year of having my confidence crushed beneath my very boot heels, I decided to do something desperate. I decided to take it to New York personally and drop it on the desk of Follett Publishing Company editor-in-chief Louis Zara. No lack of confidence there, right?
Wrong. I was scared to death. But I began to postulate that all my mail-in submissions had generated nearly identical preprinted rejection slips because, well, they were all mail-in submissions! If I wanted to break that chain, and I did, I'd have to do something drastic.
And I did.
When I arrived in New York at last and Louis Zara so graciously agreed to see me on short notice (as in, I dropped by unannounced at 11 a.m. on a Friday and looked dog-worn when his secretary asked if I had an appointment and I said, crestfallen, that I hadn't), he was kind enough to take the thing from me, open up the box it was in, thumb through a couple of pages, and offer me this sage advice:
"Just so you know for the future, it might be a good idea if you number the pages. You know, in case someone drops the manuscript and it scatters all over the place. That way, they'd be able to put the pages back in their proper order."
Good point. This guy is cooking. No wonder he's editor-in-chief. I mean, can I pick 'em, or what?
Well, of course, you know the rest of the story. He took the book home, read it overnight, and telephoned me at my hotel the following morning. He was as nice as could be in turning it down, suggesting that it might be more appropriately pitched as less of a novel and more of a … monthly magazine serial.
I mean, what did that jerk know about quality literature, anyway?
Well, that was the hard, very hard, beginning of my Journey of Self-Doubt. It wasn't until years later, decades even, that I read something that Isaac Asimov wrote about the whole stinking affair of pitching one's writing: "Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil--but there is no way around them."
Brutal. But it was honest enough to make me stop and question why I'd ever wanted to become a writer in the first place. Why risk all that rejection? And then it struck me.
I was introverted. I was shy. I was a loner. I was a creative soul. I was introspective. I was insecure. I preferred to work alone. And I expected myself to fail whenever I came into contact with other people. Most of all, I could handle rejection slips one-on-one if I had to. It was public humiliation that I feared the most.
Not working alone!
And what writer hasn't felt the need to go the distance by himself, on his own, for himself—and, of course, for the real or imagined accolades of those throngs of millions of supportive fans somewhere "out there," waiting to read more? I mean, what writer hasn't felt that need if he really is a writer?
So, to the gal who wrote that piece on self-doubt in The Writer—congratulations. I know what they pay, and it's abysmal; so, you didn't do it for money. Still, you broke the barrier. You got your fifteen minutes of fame. Next thing you know, you'll be back behind your desk, feeling that same old sense of self-doubt again. But, don't worry. It goes with the territory. It's what makes a writer a writer.
Congratulations. You've made it.
Smoke if you've got 'em.